Ship with 25 tonnes of nitric acid sinks sparking environmental disaster fears

A cargo ship carrying tons of harmful chemicals sinks off Sri Lanka’s west coast in one of the country’s worst marine disasters, officials said.

The Singapore-registered MV X-Press Pearl with 1,486 containers, including 25 tons of nitric acid and other chemicals and cosmetics, was lying off the island’s west coast when a fire broke out on May 20.

Since then, authorities have been fighting the fire as burning containers of chemicals fell from the ship’s deck, the Navy said last month.

Tons of plastic pellets have flooded the island’s coastline and rich fishing grounds, causing one of the biggest environmental crises in decades, experts say.

“The salvage company involved in the X-Press Pearl has indicated that the ship is sinking at its current position,” said Fisheries Minister Kanchana Wijesekera in a tweet.

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The government has banned fishing on a 50-mile stretch of coastline that affects 5,600 fishing boats while hundreds of soldiers have been used to clean the beach.

A salvage crew is dragging the ship into deeper water, added Wijesekera.

Rescue workers evacuated the entire crew from the container last week, with two people injured as the fire intensified, the Sri Lankan Navy said last Tuesday (May 25).

Sri Lankan Air Force personnel remove ashore debris from the Singapore-registered container ship MV X-Press Pearl

The explosion was reported from inside the ship, Navy spokeswoman Indika De Silva said, adding that an Air Force helicopter used dry chemical powder to extinguish the fire.

The ship had left the port of Hazira in India on May 15 and was on its way to Singapore via Colombo.

The Sri Lankan authorities said experts from the Netherlands and Belgium were investigating the ship while neighboring India had promised to send ships and a plane to fight the fire.

“A special Dutch flight with vital equipment to contain the fire is now to reach Sri Lanka,” said Sri Lanka’s Minister of Shipping, Rohitha Abeygunawardena.

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